Monday, July 28, 2014

Now we are here...

We arrived in Cleveland on June 17th but for the sake of chronicling holidays, farewells and various events in the order that they occurred, posts written just after our arrival are only now seeing the light of day. I'm looking forward to hopefully blogging in real time again soon!

We've landed. We're here to stay.

I'm going to struggle to describe the emotions I'm experiencing as the combination of overwhelmed and underwhelmed simultaneously is curious and confounding.

I just left behind a full and fulfilling life of work, friends, school and community. I spent my final weeks in Canberra scurrying about sorting and packing and finalising work and most importantly, honoring the relationships that I'd developed and nurtured over the last eight and a half years. I had coffees with friends and colleagues and play dates with families and said the things to people that we all should say more often. I love you. You have meant so much to me. I'm so glad I had the chance to know you. You've taught me so much.

And now that's all done.

It's all on the other side of the world.

And for that my heart hurts.

But because it happened, my heart is full and I am grateful.

In the here and now, the pace of life has changed dramatically. We are horribly jet lagged but surrounded by family who are happy to have us back and probably only now believe that we've actually returned. And we are glad to be in their company.

I have ten million and one details to sort out. Buy a car, get medical insurance, get a new phone, find a home, furnish a home, network and look for jobs, research and choose a school for Riker, visit family in Minnesota, and the list goes on and on.

Yet amidst the giant to-do list that is establishing a new life in a familiar yet unfamiliar place, there is an emptiness. The emptiness that comes with having left behind people, a place and work that I loved. Things that give a sense of purpose and schedule to daily life. I am (mostly) confident that we've made the right decision in a big picture sense and that these things will slowly develop here but for now, those things that give structure to daily life are missing. Maybe it's just the lack of routine that leaves me feeling adrift and I remind myself to embrace days that aren't overflowing for once. Whatever it is, I can't help but feel unsettled and uprooted, uncertain and impatient. So much to do, yet where to start reestablishing the entirety of life?

From others who've relocated their lives overseas, I am reminded to take it slowly. Baby steps. It will take time, but it will happen. For someone who likes to make things happen and tick things off the list, this is difficult to implement. But I will do my best to remember that it will all unfold as it should. And it will be good.

I will make it good.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Leaving Home to Go Home

Moving house is hard. Moving house twice in four months is really hard. Moving overseas with weight restrictions and space constraints on bags and boxes is really, really hard. Add to that the emotions and complexities of administrative tasks, farewells with friends, finalising work, selling and donating household items and juggling kids and you've got a recipe for a nervous breakdown!

Boxes were packed, unpacked and repacked. Items were sorted according to sentimental value. Those that were deemed to be dispensable were either given away or sold. Below is a box of kids toys that was destined for our nanny's garage sale but after I snapped this photo, I couldn't help but snatch that adorable teddy bear out and add him back to the pile that I couldn't stand to part with. It's hard not to be sentimental when going through your belongings and determining whether or not you or your children will ever see them again.

Our lives in boxes.

At least twice a day over the last two weeks in Canberra I asked myself, "What the hell are we doing?!?" I was about to get on a plane and leave it all behind, the place where I carved my professional identity, had both my babies, forged beautiful friendships and where I'd spent the most time in one place since my childhood home on a farm in rural Minnesota. I was shaped and reshaped by these years in Australia and return to the US a different person in so, so many ways.

At last all the suitcases weighed 23 kilos, the courier arrived for the boxes, the house was cleaned, the keys were handed over, the car was sold and we collapsed with our bags at our dear friend Janette's house for dinner on our last evening in Canberra. How sad to leave behind someone who was there beside me for the birth of my child and who has been an amazing friend.

In the morning, Janette and my colleague and friend Barry accompanied us to the airport to help manage kids and bags. What a lifesaver!

The boys survey the plane that will take us from Canberra to Sydney.

It's probably a good thing the boys can't fully grasp the enormity of what we're undertaking. That's not to say they're not aware of and deeply affected by the changes we're going through and the stresses we're experiencing but they're still at an age where as long as we're there with them, everything is okay.

Likely our last flights on Qantas for some time.

And just like that, it was over. That was it. Such abrupt closure to an entire chapter of our lives. 

I watched the planned city and man made lake fade in the distance until the last suburbs disappeared from sight. No matter how much I craned my neck, the city was gone. I took a deep breath and settled into my seat for the long haul. It was time to look ahead. 

Farewell Australia, for now. I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I've had here from my time as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar to my career with ANUgreen. Even more profound is the terrific community of people who lent us their friendship and shared so many formative life experiences. You have an open invitation to wherever we find ourselves on the other side of the pond. May we meet again soon. And in the meantime, please keep in touch!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Farewell O'Connor Cooperative School

Riker really enjoyed his one term as a kindergartner at the O'Connor Cooperative School. We were so sad to tear him away from such a great community school and all the friends he'd made there. Not to mention the friends we were making too!

Riker's absolute favorite thing to do at recess is ride the red bicycles. (Photo by Tivani Wong.)

Riker's best friend's mother recently tagged me in this lovely post on Facebook written by Tivani, the mother of a Co-op preschooler who'd I'd never met before.
"During the first semester of Caitlin's preschool, when I picked her up from school at one o'clock, she'd always ask to play in the playground for at least half an hour or so, and every day, there were these two boys who liked to come over and chat with me, they told me about their t-shirts, their watches, their backpacks, their drink bottles (they also tried to show me their backpacks and drink bottles), and Riker liked talking about the new numbers they just learnt in class, and we would giggle. Once Riker tried to tell me his address so Caitlin and I could visit him (we live in Turner too)! Very cute."
 Riker and his best friend Charlie R. (Photo by Tivani Wong.)

"One day while I was picking up Caitlin from school, she wanted to finish her painting, so I sat there with her and Riker came over to check out her painting. He said to her, 'it is beautiful.' I thought he was very sweet." 
Caitlin and Riker. (Photo by Tivani Wong.)

Then, small world that it is, Tivani and I discovered that we (and our children) have mutual friends. They live next door to my friend Sarina who we met way back in birthing classes in preparation for the arrival of Saskia and Riker. I was tickled by Tivani's description of Riker as a boy with "the sweetest smile and a gentle soul" and was also pleased to learn that Saskia had said that Riker is the only boy she actually likes. Proud mama moments. 

Fortunately we were able to arrange lots of play dates with Charlie before our departure.

Riker's lovely teacher, Caroline says farewell on his last day.

The class presented Riker with a book they'd drawn for him with adorable farewell messages.

On Riker's last day I brought in popsicles as a special treat and as Riker handed each child their icy pole, they were asked to say a farewell message as well. These ranged from "I love you Riker" to "I'm going to come visit you in America" to "Will you marry me Riker?"

Another difficult thing about leaving is having to make decisions about the fate of various objects including craft projects. This caravan is Riker's crowning achievement at Co-op kindy and since he worked so hard on it for weeks, it was difficult to part with it. In the end, I decided that it would be best to suggest that he offer it to his nanny Coral as a gift. Thankfully he understood we couldn't take it with us and he was happy to present it to her.

Many thanks to the lovely staff, students and parents of the O'Connor Cooperative School for making us feel welcome and showing Riker what a joy school can be. Here's hoping we can find another terrific school back in the US!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Farewell ANUgreen

It's probably a bit redundant at this point to say once again how much I have loved my work at ANUgreen but I have relished being part of such a great team of people at a world renowned institution with a kick ass award winning sustainability program. It was wrenching to tear myself away from meaningful and fulfilling work surrounded by colleagues who've become friends over the years.

But, my departure offered another opportunity to pat ourselves on the back for what we've accomplished and to reflect on the journey we've been on together. And, to have one awesome farewell party of course!

Very nearly the entire team, past and present, was able to spend an afternoon at Barry's lovely home sharing food, homebrew, mead and good company.

The team: Jeff, Wayne, Amy, Adam, Jenn, John, Bart and Natalia in the back. In the front, Tim, Steve, Barry, Teifi and Beth. Cream of the crop, these folks.

The gathering doubled as a farewell party for Adam who is off for a year of traversing round the Americas with his US passport and Aussie accent. Look out girls!

The lovely Beth who despite having moved on from our team several years ago, has remained one of my most treasured people in Canberra.

Our charming heritage guru, Amy, is now the only girl in the office!

Great memories around the fire.

Sarah, solo mama to three boys and all around awesome gal is the third dual American Australian citizen who's been part of the team! 

Student turned staff member, Natalia is destined for great things. She and all the others went home with a bottle of our specially crafted lemon mead.

I was showered with so many thoughtful gifts - books and music and wine and an Aussie care package and even gifts for the kids. And, as if to capture the thoughts and memories swirling in my head, the team presented me with a beautiful book of photos from my years at ANUgreen featuring my programs, my interns, my events, my awards, my team. Priceless.

I held it all together pretty admirably until the very end of the evening when the tears burst forth. So much gratitude, grief, joy and uncertainty collided. I was about to get on a plane in three days and leave it all behind and the sadness of leaving so many friends spilled out. Deep breaths. Trust we're making the right decision. 

So, at the risk of sounding redundant yet again, I'll take this opportunity to say one more time to my team:

Thank you for the opportunity to forge a meaningful career on a beautiful campus, for enthusiastically supporting my ideas, for always sticking together through thick and thin and for sharing so many stages of my life with me. You filled up my tiny dining room when my firstborn made his debut, you've serenaded me at my desk more times than I can count and you gave the phrase "another day in paradise" real meaning. It has been an honour and a pleasure to know and work side by side with all of you. I will carry the knowledge and professionalism you've shared with me to wherever my journey leads me next. Keep up the good work!

Jenn aka J-Mac

Monday, July 21, 2014

Farewell Friends

Over the course of our last weeks in Canberra, I tried very hard to arrange visits with as many friends as possible. There were endless tasks to attend to but I always tried to prioritise people as I knew the chances to meet face to face were limited and it was very important to me to let everyone know how much they'd meant to me. And of course, the kids had formed their own bonds as well and we wanted them to be able to say "see you later" to their friends too.

Riker and Isabella first met when they were about three months old. Here they are, nearly five and digging for treasure in her garden.

Mark, Riker, Ari and Isabella. Mark and Isabella's mum, Angela, has been a great friend and being from Peru has shared many of the challenges of a life lived away from one's place of birth.

A farewell lunch with my dear friend Kate and her family. 

Ari, Emma, Ben and Riker at Green Square in Kingston

Farewell drinks on my last day of work. Here I am with Odette and Zoe, students with whom I've worked extensively over the last year. They are excellent examples of inspiring students who contribute so much to campus sustainability and my own enjoyment of my work!

With my colleague and friend Meetu who, having moved overseas several times, wisely reminds me to take it slowly and to remember that feeling settled again is a long process and won't happen all at once.

There were so many beautiful moments with so many beautiful people that I couldn't begin to capture them all here even if I managed to get my camera out with every visit. So to all those who came to our farewell party, met us at the park, visited us at home, offered to look after the kids while we packed and were part of our amazing community over the last eight and a half years, we love you and despite the distance, will not soon forget you!

Australian Citizens!

For years we'd been debating whether or not to acquire dual American Australian citizenship. Becoming Australian citizens would mean losing some tax breaks associated with working away from home, it would lock up our superannuation funds in Australia until retirement and would require significant hassle and expense. On the other hand, becoming Australian citizens would give us the freedom to return to Australia whenever we choose and would give the kids opportunities in the future in relation to work and education.

When we returned to Australia after our six months in the US while I was on maternity leave with Ari, we decided that we would pursue Australian citizenship. We'd put in the time to make us eligible and thought the big picture reasons to become dual citizens outweighed the negatives. We immediately applied for permanent residency upon our return and then waited out the one full year requirement before being able to apply for citizenship.

Strangely enough, events conspired that we made the decision to return to the US not long before we would be granted citizenship. And so it came to be that we participated in the citizenship ceremony the week before we departed Australia.

The official citizenship pledge with a backdrop of the queen, the Australian Aboriginal flag, the Australian flag, the Torres Strait Islander flag and the Australian coat of arms.

The ceremony was held at historic Albert Hall which happens to be where the very first Australian citizenship ceremony was held in 1949. We were seated in the very front row and somehow managed to wrangle the kids through the hour long ceremony!

Wiradjuri Echos performs a traditional dance and after years of enjoying the music of the didgeridoo we were fascinated to have its sounds explained in detail. Turns of many of them mimic animal sounds, a kangaroo hopping, a kookaburra laughing or an emu booming and grunting.

We were grateful that Coral could come along to the ceremony with us since Brian's parents had to fly out the day before. This also meant we had our own photographer!

The official photo from the ceremony which was mailed to us several weeks later. Brian's middle name is spelled incorrectly and you'd think the photographer could have snapped a few more photos until the two year old took on a more flattering pose but there you go!

Despite the fact that we are relocating almost immediately after becoming Australian citizens, we are honored to carry this title and very much look forward to a time when we can bring the children back to the country in which they were born and spent their early lives.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Favorite Photographer

Riker loves to take photographs! When we got our new camera, we gave him our old point-and-shoot camera and he loves it. He even learned how to attach it to a tripod and program the self timer on the camera to take photos of himself!

Very serious about his craft.

 A quick lesson on using the timer and he was off and running!

Getting the hang of it.

 Everybody in!

We were late to school this morning because of his tripod photography but I just couldn't tear him away!

And below, a selection of my favorite photographs taken by Riker. 


It's been great fun to watch him figure out how to use the equipment and decide for himself how he wants his photos to look - moving around the room, zooming in and out, flash or no flash. I'll be very happy to encourage him to continue with this hobby!

My favorite photographer at work.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Fermented Farewell

Our last harvest of honey from our hives in Downer yielded almost ninety pounds of honey and we wanted to find a very special use for it. So, we decided to craft an original mead that we could bottle and give to our friends as a token of friendship and love.

Once the mead had been fermenting on our kitchen bench for most of a month, Brian decided to try something new. I'm pretty sure I argued for sticking with a tried and true recipe but, a more natural risk taker than I, Brian insisted that lemon would be the perfect touch to this mead.

So we set about acquiring eighty lemons!

And then juiced them all by hand!

We decided that in order to make this mead a truly beautiful gift, we'd also bottle and label it.

Brian designed the label by manipulating an image of a flower from our garden.

The front text reads:

Mellifera Estate
2014 Sweet Mead with a hint of lemon
Canberra, Australia

The back text reads:

Apis mellifera is the name for the species of honey bee whose labours feature prominently in the product you are holding in your hand. From three hives in the inner north of Canberra grew an obsession with beekeeping which complements a decade long family tradition of mead making. This mead is a product of the many adventures we have had in Australia and is a gift for all of our friends to enjoy at this time of transition in our lives. We brewed a unique blend of our joy and sadness, a sweet and sour concoction of lemon and honey with a bit of a bite. Enjoy.

It was such a joy to share this labor of love with our friends! And to subsequently hear about how much they are enjoying it has been pretty delightful too!